Japan's captain Masaomi Kobayshi is more than ready for the side to take on the likes of Nigeria, Botswana, Kuwait, Germany and Norway next week at the World Cricket League Division 7 (WCL Div. 7) that begins next week in Gaborone, Botswana.
The 28-year-old right-handed batsman spoke about his plans for the event and how the side has been preparing.
How has the side been preparing for WCL Div. 7?
We have been looking forward to this tournament since the completion of our previous tournament in Guernsey in 2009. We have undergone regular camps and established high standard domestic competitions to develop the players as a group and as individuals. The squad was narrowed down in January, and we have had two camps a month and individual training on other weekends. Unfortunately, as a result of the devastating earthquake and tsunami on 11 March this year, we were not able to have our scheduled camps or overseas tour that month. However, in April, we have been able to hold our scheduled camps and I believe that this is the best prepared that we have been for an international tournament. I'm delighted that we will compete at the tournament at our best. We have improved individually and as a group in fitness, technique, and tactically and we are all very much looking forward to the tournament.
What do you know about the conditions in Gaborone and do you think your side will be well suited to those conditions?
We understand the pitches are permanent hard wickets, which is what we are used to playing on in Japan. We also understand that the altitude is extremely high which is why we have been working hard on our fitness levels. We will be learning more about the conditions when we arrive, but this will not change how we want to play. Whatever the conditions, we will just believe in ourselves, express ourselves and play to the best of our abilities.
There are only four expatriate players in the Japan side while the rest are all native Japanese - how does your development programme work to have such a strong native Japanese element?
In the last 10 years, Japanese cricket has come a long way. New grounds, sponsors, junior development initiatives, and better coaches have all contributed to the development of cricket in Japan. The JCA has worked very hard for its fantastic achievements and that has inspired the players to work hard at training and performing well at tournaments. Encouraging youngsters to take up the sport as well as excellent coaches and improved facilities have contributed to our development and we are seeing players such as Raheel Kano who is amongst the first generation of players coming through the whole participation pathway established 10 years ago. The new generation of young talented players have created a dynamic team environment and we are all very excited get out onto the field and play.
Who are the players to watch in your side for this event? We've heard good things about Raheel Kano from the U19s, what does he bring to the side?
Yes Raheel is an exciting young leg spinner who has come through the participation programme. Like the other youngsters in the team he plays the game in an exciting way and expresses himself out on the field which is great. A number of youngsters have come into the side in recent times and have gelled really well with the experienced players. However, I believe that we are a well balanced team where everyone contributes, all 14 players and team management. Team work has been an essential weapon for us. Japan is not a team of one star player, but of a great group of players who are proud to represent their country, play as hard as they can, and bring the best out of each other.
You've obviously faced Nigeria before but what is your knowledge of the other sides in the tournament and have you played any of them recently?
We played Norway and Nigeria in the World Cricket League Division 5 in 2008. Our match against Botswana in that tournament was washed out, but we did see them play. We have heard about Germany and Kuwait from the Vanuatu players who played them in Division 8. All countries have good teams, but we will concentrate on our game plan and do our best.
Finally, the JCA have set up "Cricket for Smiles" - can you tell us a little bit about this initiative and also about what it means to you as a captain of the national cricket team and its importance?
As a group we were all upset and touched by the events of 11 March. Some of our players had family in the area and it was a very emotional time for them. We wanted to do something as a group and as an organisation to contribute to the people of the Sendai region in a positive way. A lot of schools have been wiped out and the kids involved have nothing. The idea of the initiative is to introduce cricket to over 200 schools that have been badly affected and provide them with cricket equipment.
It is upsetting to watch your country men struggle at a time like this and if we can help in anyway and use cricket to allow the children to smile again then I think it is great! We are looking for sponsorship for `Cricket for Smiles` and your support would be greatly appreciated.
All sports people dream to represent their country in their chosen sport and I was no different. The fact that I am now seen as a leader is even better. I am lucky enough to have done it before and every time I walk out onto the field as captain of Japan is a special moment for me.